- Medicinal mushrooms are fungi that can heal or prevent illnesses or diseases
- Reishi, chaga, cordyceps mushrooms have been widely used for many years
- Mushroom coffee is expected to become the next superfood drink
Medicinal mushrooms, or medicinal fungi, have been named as a top health and food trend for 2018 by Whole Foods.
With mushroom powder and mushroom coffee becoming increasingly available, many people, including Gwyneth Paltrow, are picking up products with reishi, chaga, cordyceps and lion’s mane extracts as ingredients.
Some species of mushroom have been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years, with claims that particular strains can help in fighting cancer and supporting the immune system, despite lack of evidence of this.
By 2023, the global mushroom market is expected to be worth more than $50 billion with the medicinal mushroom extract market to grow by 6.3 per cent at an annual rate.
After Starbucks introduced the adaptogen tumeric into their lattes, medicinal mushrooms are now being used in body-care products, coffee, tea and smoothies.
Year-on-year sales of mushroom food products have risen by 800 percent.
However, the true efficacy of medicinal mushrooms for treating illnesses needs to be investigated, with some health professionals advising that culinary mushrooms are a safer option and can also provide similar benefits.
What are medicinal mushrooms?
Medicinal mushrooms are fungi that have the potential to heal or prevent illnesses or diseases.
For hundreds of years, shiitake, maitake, mannentake and cordyceps mushrooms have been used to protect the liver, treat cancer and inflammation, according to The Huffington Post.
Today, medicinal mushroom extracts are used in functional foods, foods that have benefits other than nutritional value, and in dietary supplements.
While mushrooms are full of Vitamin D and with Chinese medicine using them to improve strength and prolong life, can they really be the next kale?
What are the most popular medicinal mushrooms?
Interest around medicinal mushrooms is spreading, from Los Angeles and New York to millennials, baby boomers and biohackers in the Midwest, Northeast and Florida.
There are many obstacles that brands have to overcome in order to grow the medicinal mushroom market, for example, masking the taste, sourcing mushrooms from the right place and ingredient claims.
According to Paul Stamets, a leading mycologist and Invention Ambassador of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, there is a strong environmental concern when foraging mushrooms.
Chaga is generally sustainably harvested because the variety occurs in one out of every 10,000 birch trees.
‘[The foragers] have cut off parts of the tree, leaving a giant wound in the tree and then the tree can potentially die,’ Stamets said.
Stamets’s TED Talk on the power of mushrooms has been viewed nearly 5 million times.
Can medicinal mushrooms prevent cancer?
The Huffington Post lists six types of mushrooms that are rich in polysaccharides and beta glucans, the main active immune-enhancing constituents, important for preventing cancer.
Reishi is one of the most used for cancer treatment in traditional and modern Chinese medicine. With the potential to prolong life and improve vitality and stamina, this mushroom also enhances immune response and can alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy.
Chaga has been used in Russian and Eastern European medicine and there has been the most research undertaken into this particular mushroom’s potential as an anti-cancer agent. Chaga also contains betulin which is a precursor to betulinic acid, known to inhibit the enzyme topoisomerase, that promotes cancer. Betulinic acid also encourages cancer cells to go through apoptosis, a natural programmed cell death.
Cordyceps prolongs the lifespan of white blood cells, raises T-cells and Natural Killer cells that in turn, kill the infection. Like reishi, cordyceps also protects the kidneys from the side effects of chemotherapy.
Turkey Tail has been used as a tonic in Chinese medicine for centuries and studies have proved that it improves survival rates and enhances the effects of chemotherapy, while reducing the side effects of radiation.
Shiitake, being a widely used ingredient in Asian cuisine, contains the glucan AHCC known to have immune-enhancing functions. Alongside this, the compound lentinan found in shiitake, is used as an intravenous anti-cancer drug.
Maitake is used frequently in Japanese cooking and has shown to be able to fight infections as well as build a long-term adaptive immune response. It also protects cells with antioxidant properties and decreases the inflammatory factor COX2 enzyme common in cancer physiology.
Medicinal mushroom side-effects
Health’s contributing Nutrition Editor Cynthia Sass, RD, highlights there ‘is some research to show that the maitake mushroom may lower blood glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes.
‘It’s important to know that anything medicinal, even plants and natural substances, can have potential side effects and interactions,’ Sass said.
However, Sass goes on to explain that maitake mushrooms should be avoided if diabetes medication is being taken as the mushrooms can interact with the drugs.
Chagas can also have an effect on cholesterol levels and while tests have been carried out on mice, enough research has not been done on humans.
This is why many health professionals advise eating mushrooms that are usually used for culinary purposes.
‘Culinary mushrooms, like white buttons and portobellos, are very low in calories – about 15 to 20 per cup – and antioxidant-rich too.’
‘Plus, they’re the only plant source of natural vitamin D, a key nutrient most of us don’t get enough of. Since vitamin D is linked to lower rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and even some cancers, getting the nutrients from natural sources like mushrooms is encouraged,’ Sass said.
What is mushroom coffee?
Mushroom coffee is expected to become the next superfood drink with golden lattes and enhanced waters being popular with the health-conscious.
Mushroom coffee is proving to be popular because it still gives drinkers an energising experience but without the jittery feeling.
One example would be Finnish company Four Sigmatic’s mushroom-infused coffee and their aim is to transform the fungi into something beneficial.
The mushroom extract powder is isolated and spray dried so that the healthy compounds are in their most concentrated form.
The powder is then mixed with coffee grounds, ready to be added to hot water and drink.
Four Sigmatic, after realising the health food interest in the US, brought the company to the nation and opened a mushroom coffee cafe called The Shroom Room on Venice Beach, Los Angeles.
After tripling annual growth, and Four Sigmatic products being sold in over 1,000 stores in the US, the adaptogenic mushroom continues to boom.
According to Health, Four Sigmatic’s green coffee mix includes maitake mushroom — that the company claims regulates blood sugar levels — and chaga mushroom, that reduces the coffee’s natural acidity
By Madhvi Mavadiya for The Daily Mail